Lord Avie continues his march to the Kentucky Derby Monday, running in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He will be an overwhelming favorite.
Neither his trainer, the trainers of his opponents nor the betting public seems to realize that the 2-year-old champion of 1980 is about to be ambushed.
Lord Avie has been grossly overrated, and his shortcomings are sure to be exposed sooner or later. I think it will happen now. I am making my biggest bet of the winter on an unheralded colt named Jiggs Alarm; who I think will beat the champ and may even humiliate him.
I would proclaim Jiggs Alarm a three-star, mortal-lock, tap-out betting proposition if it were not for one consideration of which readers may be aware. In the past I have habitually knocked big-name 3-year-olds I thought were overrated: Seattle Slew, Rockhill Native, Temperence Hill. But my perception of these horses' limitations made me overeager to wager against them, often in situations where such a move was not warranted.
There are other 3-year-olds who would be sure things to beat Lord Avie, notably Cure The Blues and Five Star Flight, but they aren't entered in the Fountain of Youth. The credentials of Jiggs Alarm hardly are overwhelming, but a dispassionate analysis of the past performance suggests that he is nevertheless good enough to whip his $10 million rival.
Scrutiny of Lord Avie's record reveals just how flimsy his championship credentials are. The colt has won four straight races, one this year and three at the end of last season which earned him the Eclipse Award. But what did he beat?
In the Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream, Lord Avie eked out a desperate photo-finish decision over Spirited Boy, who had never come close to winning a stakes race and had lost to Jiggs Alarm twice.
In the Young America Stakes at the Meadowlands, Lord Avie won by one length over Sezyou, who finished out of the money in his next four starts (and was a dozen lengths behind Jiggs Alarm in one of them).
In the Champagne Stakes at Belmont, Lord Avie beat Noble Nashua by 2 1/4 lengths, with Sezyou third. Noble Nashua went from Belmont to Laurel and lost his next start by 14 lengths; he still has never won a stakes race.
These are not the accomplishments of an invincible champion. Jiggs Alarm has the ability to beat Lord Avie.
The gray colt showed promise early in his career, and lost by only a half-length to Lord Avie in a midsummer stakes race at Belmont. But he tailed off badly during the summer.
Jiggs Alarm began to regain his form in New York during the fall and has blossomed here this winter. In his first start at Gulfstream, he won at six furlongs over the fast filly Dame Mysterieuse, who came back last week to beat Heavenly Cause, the defending 2-year-old filly champion. Then Jiggs Alarm ran in a seven-furlong stakes race and lost by 1 1/2 lengths to Five Star Flight, who doesn't have a national reputation yet but may be one of the two best colts of his age in America.
Jiggs Alarm may have some advantages Monday besides his unrecognized ability. Most of the entrants in the 1-1/16-mile Fountain of Youth are stretch runners; Jiggs Alarm should be able to stay near the lead without being taxed. Lord Avie is sure to be near the rear of the field.
But if jockey Chris McCarron and trainer Danny Persweig think they can spot Jiggs Alarm a big lead and run him down, they are mistaken. This could be an equine version of the Ali-Spinks fight, where the champ toys with the challenger until he realizes too late that he has a battle on his hands.
Few enough people envision such a scenario that Jiggs Alarm will be 5 to 1 or more in the Fountain of Youth. Even his trainer says, "He's a good horse but not an outstanding horse. I don't think he's good enough to beat Lord Avie."